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Sharon McCoy <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 1 Dec 2011 18:29:13 -0800
text/plain (226 lines)
Sorry -- hit "send" before I realized part of the end of that last paragraph was 

I meant to say:

Where you were able to sit in the theatre itself marked your class.  It seems 
that it was important to Twain to establish that he wasn't in the part of the 
theatre reserved for the poor folks, non-white audience members, or prostitutes.


From: Sharon McCoy <[log in to unmask]>

To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Thu, December 1, 2011 9:19:56 PM
Subject: Re: MT & Dickens (& Christmas)

Thought-provoking discussion.  

It seems to me that there were more female performers out in California than in 
New York, but I'm not sure about the audiences, especially in a small town.  The 

mining towns were usually decidedly masculine, so far as I know.  Even as late 
as the 1890s and 1900s, traveling performer and lecturer E. Pauline Johnson was 
often the only woman for miles around when she toured the mining regions of 
Canada and the West.

I also think that Twain's comment about the "part" of the theatre mattered.  He 
says "many of the syllables fell dead before they reached our part of the 
house."  Theatres were sectioned off by class and race, sometimes even having 
separate entrances and staircases; most theatres were on the second floor for 
some reason I still can't fathom--it's part of the reason theatre fires were so 

Being apparently far from the stage, it seems that Twain felt the need to 
criticize the carrying quality of Dickens's performance but also to clarify that 

he himself was in good, respectable company--the best!--in good, respectable 
seats.  In slightly earlier Mr. Brown letters, Twain bragged about getting a 
"box"--$5,  as opposed to the cheapest seats at 25 cents--at the San Francisco  
Minstrels theatre and also about being their guest, not having to pay  for his 
ticket often.  Where you were able to sit in the theatre itself  marked your 
class and   -- and that he wasn't in the part of the theatre reserved for the 
poor folks, or for non-white audience members and prostitutes, the cheap upper 
balcony seats that later came to be known as "nigger heaven," the only part of 
the theatre in which they were often allowed.  And, as prostitutes and their 
patrons of all colors were confined to the "colored" section, there was often an 

assumption about the virtue of the female audience members who actually simply 
wanted to see the show.  Noisy fights apparently were often the result.    


From: "Harris, Susan Kumin" <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Thu, December 1, 2011 4:19:47 PM
Subject: Re: MT & Dickens (& Christmas)

The girl was undoubtedly Livy; their first date was to hear Dickens read (i=
n company with with her parents and, I think, Alice Hooker, to whom Clemens=
was initially more attracted than to Livy).  Clemens's analysis of Dickens=
' style as always struck me as betraying the anxiety of the novitiate in th=
e presence of the master--he's studying him intensely, trying to figure out=
what makes his magic.

As for the "white" reference, yes, it's a joke, but one with a heavy underp=
inning of American racism and sexism that gives us a glimpse into American =
culture of the time.  Impacted in that one word is a whole host of issues: =
questions about the respectability of theater, for starters--what kinds of =
women went to theaters?  Did women in Twain's home town--or in Nevada or S.=
F. for that matter--go to theaters or was it still a largely male domain?  =
Second, Twain's own history with women--he rarely mentions his own relation=
ships--romantic or sexual, but when he does, I think it's often along the l=
ines of that crack he makes (in Nevada?) about sleeping with chambermaids. =
Third, the need to specify that this woman is white, that whiteness connot=
es respectability, with the assumption that blackness does not.  So this is=
all about Sam Clemens at this time of his life, but it's also all about Am=
erican race and gender relations.  --susan harris

Susan K. Harris

Hall Professor of American Literature

University of Kansas

Author of God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902

From: Mark Twain Forum [[log in to unmask]] on behalf of John Davis [jhdavis@=
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2011 10:05 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: MT & Dickens (& Christmas)

If I recall correctly, his first "date" with Livy was attendance at a
Dickens lecture.  I'm sure she is the "white" woman to whom he refers, and
I also agree that that designation of her is intended as a joke.

On Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 10:17 AM, westbook <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> I think the "white woman" thing was just Twain's way of making a joke.
> Tim Champlin
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Ben Wise" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 7:22 PM
> Subject: Re: MT & Dickens (& Christmas)
> >I figure "white" just goes along with "highly respectable" in the
> >convention=3D
> > al rhetorical litany of attributes accorded a woman one is proud to hav=
> > in o=3D
> > ne's company, at that declarative time  But...who WAS that white woman?
> >
> > Ben
> >
> >
> >
> > On Nov 30, 2011, at 6:02 PM, Harold Bush <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> >
> >> folks, deep into the Christmas tales of Dickens this week and next;
> >> though=3D
> > t
> >> I'd treat myself to another look and see how the students like (or
> >> dislike=3D
> > )
> >> them.
> >> Here's just a few rambling questions, in case any of you are in a
> holiday
> >> mood and feel like chatting:
> >>=3D20
> >> I wonder how MT thought of Dickens as a novelist?  I don't have a copy
> of
> >> Alan's book handy (sure wish the new edition of MT'sL would appear, ar=
> >> yo=3D
> > u
> >> listening Prof. Gribben?).
> >>=3D20
> >> I wonder what he might have thought of those old Christmas tales -- an=
> >> also, when or if MT ever really wrote much about Christmas, or used it
> >> muc=3D
> > h
> >> as a setting?
> >>=3D20
> >> I also was interested in this little review MT wrote of his visit to
> hear
> >> CD read, in NYC, 1868:
> >>=3D20
> >> "He read David Copperfield. He is a bad reader, in one sense -- becaus=
> >> he=3D
> >
> >> does not enunciate his words sharply and distinctly -- he does not cut
> >> the=3D
> >
> >> syllables cleanly, and therefore many and many of them fell dead befor=
> >> they reached our part of the house. [I say "our" because I am proud to
> >> observe that there was a beautiful young lady with me -- a highly
> >> respectable young white woman.]"
> >>=3D20
> >> (from a nice website:;
>  is
> >> this published in a recent edition somewhere?  not really sure about
> that
> >> .=3D
> >
> >> . . .)
> >>=3D20
> >> For most of the 60s, evidently, CD read those Christmas tales in publi=
> >> readings.  But the thing that really caught my eye:  why did he call h=
> >> a=3D
> >
> >> "white" woman?  I don't really get the reason for emphasizing that -- =
> >> i=3D
> > f
> >> he would be with an African American?  or am I just missing something
> >> with=3D
> >
> >> that?
> >>=3D20
> >> Anyway;  if anyone has something to say about MT and Christmas, or CD,
> >> I'm=3D
> >
> >> interested!
> >>=3D20
> >>=3D20
> >> thanks, --Hal B.
> >>=3D20
> >>=3D20
> >>=3D20
> >>=3D20
> >> --=3D20
> >> Harold K. Bush, Ph.D
> >> Professor of English
> >> Saint Louis University
> >> St. Louis, MO  63108
> >> 314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)
> >> <>

John H. Davis, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Department of Language and Literature
Chowan University
Murfreesboro, North Carolina 27855=